By bombing Libya, President Obama has accomplished some things once thought absolutely impossible in America:
(a) War-mongering liberals: Liberals are now chest-thumping about military “progress” in Libya. Even liberal television and radio commentators cite ingenious reasons why an optional, preemptive American intervention in an oil-producing Arab country, without prior congressional approval or majority public support — and at a time of soaring deficits — is well worth supporting, in a sort of “my president, right or wrong,” fashion. Apparently, liberal foreign policy is returning to the pre-Vietnam days of the hawkish “best and brightest.”
(b) Europe first: Many Americans have long complained about the opportunistic, utopian Europeans. Under the protective U.S. defense shield, they often privately urged us to deal with dangerous foreign dictators — while staying above the fray to criticize America, at the same time seeking trade advantages and positive global PR. But now the wily Obama has outwaited even the French. He has managed to shame them into acting, with a new opossum-like U.S. strategy of playing dead until finally the Europeans were exasperated — almost as if the president were warning them, “We don’t mind the Qaddafi bloodletting if you, who are much closer to it, don’t mind.” The British Guardian and French Le Monde will be too knee-deep in the Libyan war, busy chalking up Anglo-French “wins” and worrying about European oil concessions, to charge America with the usual imperialism, colonialism, and militarism. We are almost back to the 1956 world of the Suez crisis.
(c) Iraq was just a prequel to Libya: Conservatives have complained that opposition — especially in the cases of then-senators Barack Obama and Joe Biden — to George W. Bush’s antiterrorism policies and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq was more partisan than principled. Obama ended that debate by showing that not only can he embrace — or, on occasion, expand — the Bush-Cheney tribunals, preventive detentions, renditions, Predator attacks, intercepts and wiretaps, and Guantanamo Bay, but he can now preemptively attack an Arab oil-exporting country without fear of Hollywood, congressional cutoffs, MoveOn.org “General Betray Us”–type ads, Cindy Sheehan on the evening news, or Checkpoint-like novels. In short, Obama has ensured that the antiwar movement will never be quite the same.
(d) Monster-in-recovery: The Qaddafi clan has been wooing Westerners through oil money and multicultural gobbledygook. In the last few years, the British released the Lockerbie bomber, a native of Libya; Saif Qaddafi, the would-be artist and scholar and the son of Col. Moammar Qaddafi, essentially bought a Ph.D. from the prestigious London School of Economics; the creepy Harvard-connected Monitor Group hired out cash-hungry “scholars” to write tributes to Qaddafi’s achievements; and Mariah Carey, 50 Cent, Beyoncé, and other entertainers earned a pile of petrodollars by crooning for the Qaddafis. Then, suddenly, Obama spoiled the fun and profits by turning Qaddafi from a rehabilitated monster back into Ronald Reagan’s old “Mad Dog of the Middle East.”
(e) Stuff happens: Many supporters of the Iraq War condemned Abu Ghraib as the poorly supervised, out-of-control prison it was. Lax American oversight resulted in the sexual humiliation of detained Iraqi insurgents. It was a deplorable episode, in which, nonetheless, no one was killed, and yet it took an enormous toll on the credibility of Bush-administration officials. But while the media were covering the Libyan bombing and the Middle East uprisings, a number of Afghan civilians allegedly were executed by a few rogue American soldiers. That was a far worse transgression than anything that happened at Abu Ghraib during Bush’s tenure — but it was apparently an incident that, in the new media climate, could legitimately be ignored. Obama made “stuff happens” an acceptable defense for those doing their best to run a war from Washington.
(f) War really is tiring: The media serially blamed a supposedly lazy Ronald Reagan for napping during military operations abroad. George W. Bush was criticized for cutting brush at his Texas ranch while soldiers fought and died in Iraq. Obama rendered all such presidential criticism mere nitpicking when he started aerial bombardment in the midst of golfing, handicapping the NCAA basketball tournament, and taking his family to Rio de Janeiro.
(g) The road to Damascus? After Bush’s interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, many war-weary Americans believed that we would never again get involved in a Middle East war. But now, with Obama’s preemptive bombing of Libya, giddy American interventionists are again eyeing Iran, Syria — and beyond!
In short, Obama turned America upside down when he bombed Libya — and in ways we could have scarcely imagined.
— Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the author, most recently, of The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern. © 2010 Tribune Media Services, Inc.